LAKE GEORGE — State economic development officials got a crash course Tuesday in Lake George’s water quality.
About a dozen local leaders, representing municipalities, economic development groups and environmental conservation agencies, shared their views, concerns and plans with two Capital Region Economic Development Council representatives, in the hope of improving their chances of winning state funds to help pay for a new village wastewater treatment plant.
Mike Yevoli, executive director of the Capital Region Regional Economic Development Council, and Will Arnold, with Empire State Development, were taken on a tour of the village’s 80-year-old wastewater treatment plant and took a boat ride on Lake George to visit sites where invasive species control efforts are underway.
The day’s activities were arranged by Dave Decker of Lake George Watershed Coalition.
“This is just a bigger reach than we’ve ever asked for before,” Decker said, regarding the effort to secure several million dollars — from multiple government programs — to help build a new wastewater treatment plant for about $17 million.
The Village Board, at last month’s meeting, approved a $17 million serial bond for the new plant, but the hope is that about $9 million of the cost will come through grants, Decker said.
“We need to make them (the Regional Economic Development Council) as familiar as possible with the project,” he said before the meeting, adding that the application for funding will be submitted to the regional council on July 29, the deadline for such submissions.
“We can’t talk to them after the 29th,” Decker said, citing the rules of the economic development competition, through which regional councils statewide compete for a pool of state funds. The competition approach to allocating such funds has been in place since 2011.
Tuesday’s event started at the Fund for Lake George, where Fund Director Eric Siy and Lake George Waterkeeper Chris Navitsky explained the scientific studies that identified threats to Lake George. They outlined initiatives already launched to slow or reverse a trend of worsening water quality in the lake.
Specifically, Siy and Navitsky spoke about a “tipping point” toward which the lake’s water quality is moving and after which it will be considerably more difficult to restore the lake to its previous state.
“We don’t know when (the tipping point) would hit,” Siy said. “We do know there are distinct pressures on the lake that we have to focus on like a laser beam, and we’re not going to do it alone as any one organization, whether it’s The Fund, the (Lake George) Park Commission or the (Lake George Association). We’re only going to realize this promise of lasting protection as partners.”
Event participants learned about the threats of invasive species, the impact of road salt and stormwater runoff and the change in water quality that has been documented for decades and linked to inadequate septic systems and wastewater treatment facilities along the lake.
To drive home the issue, the group boarded a trolley to the Lake George wastewater plant, where Chief Operator Tim Shudt explained the technology in use and why it’s too antiquated to remove the nitrates that have been linked to algae blooms in Lake George.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation issued an order on consent to the village in 2014, requiring that it fix the nitrate discharge issue. The village responded by issuing a moratorium on large-scale commercial development that could further strain the treatment plant. Monitoring of the plant’s performance, as well as downstream testing, have shown the plant is simply not up to the task of handling the village’s needs anymore, Decker said.
While Yevoli and Arnold asked questions throughout the event, Yevoli said they were not allowed to comment on the things they learned without permission from Empire State Development.
A request for comment from the duo sent Tuesday to Empire State Development brought no response.
Lake George Association Director Walt Lender said he thought Yevoli and Arnold learned a lot from the day’s activities, which included a visit aboard the LGA’s Floating Classroom to Sandy Bay. Researchers there were studying Asian clam populations.
The group also visited Cannon Point, where volunteers were hand-harvesting Eurasian watermilfoil.
Both the clams and the watermilfoil are invasive species that are seen as major threats to the lake’s ecosystem.
“They (Yevoli and Arnold) had some good questions,” Lender said. “I think they were very interested in what we had going on, and now they understand better a bit about the lake and how important it is to protect the lake from every level.”
Lender said he was encouraged by a conversation he had with the duo about the regional council’s priorities.
“What I heard was that they’re really focusing on what they call the ‘creative economy,’” Lender said. “That takes into account all aspects of the economy, not just straight job creation, but also quality of life issues, like good natural resources and good arts resources — the whole picture of what the region has to offer people.
“I think this (funding for Lake George water quality efforts) fits in well with what view they have.”